The “Manchurian Candidate”: Lee Harvey Oswald?
world is a dangerous place, not because of those who do evil, but because of
those who look on and do nothing."
“Manchurian Candidate”: Lee Harvey Oswald?
An American soldier is taken behind enemy lines and
brainwashed as an unwitting assassin by communists in league with American
political figures. This soldier then returns to the States to kill a
presidential candidate as part of a political scheme to escalate and exploit
Cold War tensions.
Sound familiar? It does if you’ve seen the classic movie “The Manchurian Candidate.”
Now consider this modified scenario: An American
soldier is first brainwashed to behave as a communist by agents of his
own government, then sent behind enemy lines as a defector, only to return
to the States and assassinate an American president while still under the
influence of mind control.
But this is no movie plot. Years of research have
convinced me this is exactly what happened in the assassination of John F.
Kennedy in 1963.
Before you dismiss this as yet another JFK
conspiracy theory, look at how much it explains in
light of what we’ve learned about the CIA’s skillful use of mind
control and fake defectors over years of anti-communist operations.
In a program known as MKULTRA, the CIA spent billions of dollars
secretly perfecting mind control technology. Brutal methods of eliciting
confessions from captured enemy agents (electric shock, sensory deprivation,
hypnosis and truth drugs such as LSD) were developed on hundreds
of unwitting victims. Used operationally for
many years, this counterintelligence technology is now coming
to light in the Abu Ghraib prison-torture scandal.
In addition to “defensive” techniques, CIA researchers sought
to develop countermeasures against human weaknesses identified by the MKULTRA
tests to create "torture-proof" American agents who could be sent into
enemy territory on intelligence missions or be used to infiltrate enemy
organizations as convincing double-agents and provocateurs.
But the CIA didn’t stop here. They also developed methods to
brainwash so-called "involuntary assassins" who would not question
orders to kill on command in Cold War operations. According to declassified
government documents published by the New York Times, such agents would
carry out actions “even against such fundamental laws of nature as
a CIA memo (NYT, 1978) describing an experiment using "involuntary
assassins" written before the JFK assassination predicted the
details surrounding the crime with eerie precision. According to the
declassified memo from the 1950s, as a “trigger mechanism” for a “bigger
project” a defector would be manipulated to kill an American official under
the influence of CIA mind control and then be “disposed of” after being
taken into custody for the crime. Flash forward a few years to 1963. A
defector (Oswald) kills an American official (Kennedy) and is then “disposed
of” in police custody (by Jack Ruby). The “trigger mechanism” (death of a
president) clears the way to a “bigger project”: escalation of
the Cold War on an unprecedented scale.
The parallels are striking. But is there supporting evidence for the scenario of Oswald being unwittingly manipulated as an intelligence pawn in a similar operation?
Declassified memos and investigative reporting by various sources have taught us a great deal over the past 40 years of how involuntary operatives could be cleverly “programmed” by the CIA as apparent communist sympathizers to infiltrate and disrupt communist organizations. (We now know that during the 1960s scores of phony leftists were used by the CIA and FBI to infiltrate and discredit organizations through violent behavior in infamous programs such as COINTELPRO.) We have also learned how supposed “lone-nut” Lee Harvey Oswald’s seemingly irrational behavior actually complemented such espionage programs:
His defection to the Soviet Union was secretly handled by the CIA
counterintelligence mission and mirrored an
elaborately staged defection involving another low-level American
soldier (with a similar background) that began the very same year Oswald's did.
Following his return to the U.S., Oswald leveraged his defector
credentials to play the role of pro-Castro activist while constantly
surrounded by anti-communists with links to the intelligence world.
His best friend in Dallas was a wealthy
White Russian with ties to the CIA and the address of future CIA Director George
Bush in his telephone register.
After moving to New Orleans, Oswald formed an unauthorized chapter
of a Castro-friendly group targeted by the CIA and handed out pro-Castro
leaflets printed with the office address of an FBI anti-communist expert.
Future “lone-nut assassin” and pro-Castro activist Oswald even
met with one of the CIA’s anti-Castro assassins in New Orleans, while under
both CIA and FBI surveillance (NYT, 1993).
Oswald's supposed pro-communist behavior fit the profile of a
hypnotized anti-Communist infiltrator as detailed in declassified
documents from his era. Military hypnotist George Estabrooks even
bragged of carrying out an operation employing a brainwashed Marine who was
hypno-programmed with a pro-communist
personality so he could be prematurely discharged from the service as a fake
defector and then used in an anti-communist
intelligence operation. Further, he claimed his hypnosis technique had been used
to create assassins.
The more I study Oswald’s infamous career, the
more I am struck by how his otherwise puzzling bipolar antics make perfect sense
within a now well-established CIA pattern of using counterfeit pro-communists
in its anti-Communist operations. Indeed, there
was an overarching theme to Oswald’s career—from his defection, to the
assassination of JFK—he was being used in efforts to identify and eliminate
perceived threats to the CIA’s anti-Communist operations, while posing as a
But I am also struck by
the parallels between the “Manchurian Candidate” hypothesis and Oswald’s
use within these espionage operations.
As I reveal in The
Perfect Assassin, mind control
had many fascinating benefits for creating convincing double agents with
unquestioning obedience who could be used in dangerous espionage cases where
plausible deniability was critical. Estabrooks
described the advantages mind control would provide in creating credible double
agents to infiltrate communist organizations. “Convinced of their own
innocence they would play the ‘fifth column’ role with utmost sincerity.”
And even if such an agent was captured, “He could not tell the truth about his
life as a spy, because he would not know of it.”
Declassified documents from the early ‘60s detail
CIA experiments with this mind control technology that had amazing
parallels to incidents in Oswald’s life and the events leading up to the
Kennedy assassination. And documents show that the CIA was seriously
investigating the use mind control for the anti-Castro assassination operations
in which Oswald was involved.
But the theory of Oswald’s being used as a pawn
in ongoing anti-communist operations not only explains his activities leading up
to the assassination. It explains the reasons behind the assassination itself
and therefore helps solve the riddle of who was ultimately behind the crime.
Put yourself in the mindset of the early ‘60s, when those entrusted with the nation’s security saw communist infiltration in every dissident group, danger lurking in every shadow. To them, we needed to escalate the Cold War, not step back from it. In their eyes, JFK failed them in the failed Bay of Pigs invasion of Castro’s Cuba. And then he actively resisted aggressive plans and ongoing preparations for a second invasion. Kennedy was even considered a pro-communist traitor by extremists within the intelligence community.
If this scenario sounds outlandish in the post-Cold War world, consider the latest declassified documents that have surfaced from the Kennedy-era. These documents detail a major Cold War operation called Operation Northwoods secretly initiated by the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Memos from this operation, which was rejected by Kennedy, reveal a bold plan to justify a second invasion of Cuba. In one aspect of this plan, the CIA's anti-Castro agents, disguised as pro-Castro militants, would engage in a series of violent actions, including staged assassinations on American soil. Such covert actions by apparent pro-communists were designed to provoke "a helpful wave of indignation" in the American public that could be channeled to support a more overt and militaristic Cold War crusade.
Now consider the convenience of Oswald’s actions to the covert warriors who not only had plans in place to kill heads of state (like Castro) but also had even discussed using mind control in these ongoing Cold War-era assassination attempts:
By killing JFK in the guise of a pro-Castro agent, Oswald eliminated a roadblock to the CIA's more militant anti-communist policies (Kennedy had fired the CIA director who oversaw these policies and then served on the Warren Commission), and indeed provided a justification for them!
As the prophetic CIA memo on mind control foreshadowed, JFK’s murder served as the “trigger mechanism” for the “bigger project.” With Kennedy out of the way, thanks to the actions of a “Manchurian Candidate,” the Cold Warriors were free to escalate their mission with unspeakable brutality in Vietnam and elsewhere.
Far-fetched? Not when you sit down and look at the declassified documents.
Jerry Leonard is author of The Perfect Assassin
(A longer version of this article is available here.)
Postscript: "The Perfect Assassin" reveals fascinating declassified documents and historical precedents supporting the theory that Lee Harvey Oswald was programmed through the CIA’s MKULTRA program to behave as a militant pro-communist for anti-communist intelligence operations culminating in the assassination of John F. Kennedy. The psychological warfare technology developed under MKULTRA was designed to create torture-proof double-agents who would carry out such missions unwittingly, thereby providing the ultimate in plausible deniability for operations such as the FBI’s infamous COINTELPRO program, ZR Rifle and Operation Northwoods. The “Manchurian Candidate” theory of the JFK assassination not only explains the bipolar nature of Oswald's activities (pro- and anti-Communist) leading up to and including the assassination, but also can be used to harmonize the two main schools of thought in the ongoing investigation: “Oswald as lone-assassin” and “Oswald as CIA patsy.” Since an “involuntary assassin” is the ultimate patsy, this artificial division in the ongoing investigation can be eliminated and the best evidence from both camps synthesized to finally solve the case.